The Myth of The Rebuilding Habs

By JD Lagrange – It is amazing to read the amount of misinformation circulating on the internet. If we believed everything we read, COVID is an hoax, police forces have no training, and NHL General Managers are all liars. Why? Because WE know better. Because WE have done our little bit of research in a quest to find even just a little something that supports our beliefs, ignoring the facts, or downplaying them as insignificant, just because they go against what WE think.

Here’s the deal about the Montreal Canadiens. Recently appointed GM Kent Hughes has said numerous times that he doesn’t believe in having to go through a rebuild with the team he’s inherited from Marc Bergevin. He told reporters to call it what they want but he doesn’t like the word “rebuild” because it comes with pre-conceived ideas.

What’s a rebuild?

We need to clarify, for the sake of too many people, what an actual rebuild truly is. A rebuild is not much different that in the construction industry. It’s stripping a building down to the frame and structure, and build it again from the ground up, from some framing, electrical to plumbing, roofing, drywalling, etc. In terms of sports (in this case hockey), it’s doing what the Ottawa Senators have done and the Detroit Red Wings have been doing. It’s doing what the Buffalo Sabres have (unsuccessfully) been trying to do. What the Pittsburgh Penguins did from 2002 to 2006 when they selected first overall twice, second twice and fifth once during that time span. What the Toronto Maple Leafs did from 2012 to 2016. Those were rebuilding teams.

So as Hughes said, call it whatever you want. Bergevin called it a reset back in the summer of 2018. It’s trying to remain competitive while piling up draft picks, developing your own young players (which takes time), surrounding them with quality veterans but the goal is to be competitive and even make the playoffs in the meantime. That’s what Hughes wants. At least, if we listen to his words, that’s what he says he’s trying to do. You want to compare to another organization? Look no further than Jeff Gorton’s old team, the New York Rangers. They didn’t rebuild.

Some people feel like because they have traded veterans like Ben Chiarot, Tyler Toffoli and Artturi Lehkonen, it serves as undeniable proof that the Canadiens are indeed rebuilding in spite of what Hughes claims. That is simply not true, in my humble opinion. They get confused because the only similarity between a rebuild and a retool is the emphasis on drafting and developing. Take Hughes’ words for what he says but put them all together this time. You’ll see.

Faster team

What do I mean? Hughes – and Jeff Gorton before him – have also said wanting to have a faster team, a more skillful team. A team that plays at a faster pace. Of the players that were traded, while not necessarily slow, none of them are known for their speed.

Hughes also said wanting a more modern defense, with good skaters. Chiarot is not a bad skater… for his size. But he’s also not a speedster either. And he was a pending UFA on line for a big raise, on a team that doesn’t have cap space. Plus he fetched an excellent return. Those moves are to change the style of players, not necessarily because they were “old”.

Yeah but Jeff Petry…

Jeff Petry

Jeff Petry is a whole different story. The reason why they are trying to trade him is at his own demand. He’s the type of player, of defenseman, that the Canadiens’ brass wants. It’s for family reasons that Hughes is willing to accommodate Petry. They would keep him if he wanted to stay.

Further, in his post-season press conference, Hughes has clearly said that if or when he trades Petry, he wants to replace him with an equal quality right-handed veteran defenseman. If the Canadiens’ GM was rebuilding, he wouldn’t do that, particularly not when trying to shed some major cap space… or if he wanted to finish last again. Would he?

UFA market

Another thing to add to what Hughes has been saying is that he is planning on being aggressive on the free agents’ market. Whatever it looks like remains to be seen, but a GM in a rebuilding phase wouldn’t be suggesting that. Let’s be real here. The Habs’ involvement in the UFA market will obviously depend on how much cap space Hughes will be able to shed in the off-season, prior to free agency. But the intent is the same regardless: improve the on-ice results immediately.

Goaltending situation

Last but not least, another point to add to dismantle the “rebuild” narrative is what Hughes has said about the goaltending situation just recently. Faced with uncertainty regarding the future of Carey Price, Hughes has hinted that this off-season, he might have to find an alternative, an insurance policy in case Price can’t go next season. Wouldn’t a rebuilding team be happy to have Jake Allen and Samuel Montembeault or Cayden Primeau in net?

Conclusion

So folks, put it all together here:

  1. While they had a God awful season with tons of bad luck on the injury front, the Canadiens clearly aren’t trying to tank. Not this year, not next season, according to the speeches from the team’s GM and Vice-President of Hockey Operations.
  2. They are clearly not doing what Ottawa, Detroit and Buffalo are doing, or what Pittsburgh and Toronto did before them, by trying to string a series of bad seasons to get higher picks.
  3. The veterans traded at trade deadline were to shed salary, get assets in return and didn’t quite fit the style of play they are trying to change to.
  4. Jeff Petry being the exception as while if does fit the style, he’s the one wanting out. Hughes is planning on replacing him with a similar player.
  5. The Canadiens are planning on being players on the UFA market, far from a rebuilding team’s mindset.
  6. Hughes is planning on getting help, insurance in the event Carey Price can’t play next season.

Hughes and Gorton aren’t rebuilding, no more than Bergevin was rebuilding either. All of those moves are to get better next season. The new duo is simply continuing what their predecessor started, a reset through the Draft while trying to get back to the playoffs. So let’s stop trying to fit square pegs into round holes. things into narratives and take Hughes’ words for what they are: transparency and him wanting to return to being a competitive team, while changing the style of play and making room under the salary cap.

They preach transparency, something fans and media have been praising them for. Well, they’re either transparent, telling the truth, or they’re not by so-called “lying”. You can’t have it both ways!

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5 thoughts on “The Myth of The Rebuilding Habs

  1. I like your view on the Habs situation. Every team is always rebuilding or regenerating their rosters. The good teams make more subtle, continuous, positive changes. Individual progression, individual needs, injuries and cap constraints all keep this from being a straight line process. We all tend to build our own narratives from bits of « knowledge ». I just want to see the current management/coaching teams (and players) make more right calls than wrong.

    1. I tend to take what people say as what they think or, for the most part, at face value. Some people will feel like it makes me gullible, but I prefer to use the word “trusting”. But when their actions back their words, at some point, we must trust that they’re telling the truth. It’s easy to claim foul one one event, but when multiple events support their say, at some point, we must start believing them even when it doesn’t fit our own personal views. If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck…

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